Thursday, March 1, 2012

The Indie Pricing Dilemma

There are three things in life that I don't like discussing most of the time: politics, religion, and ebook prices. All three are very hot topics that people get irate (and sometimes downright nasty) about. On occasion, however, something will bug me so much that I feel the need to speak out, such as when people blame the president (any president) for the state of this country (while forgetting that we are a democracy, not a dictatorship) or when people claim the First Amendment gives them the right to be a jerk (no, it doesn't). So when I read an article by Dean Wesley Smith today about raising indie ebook prices, I felt the need to chime in.

I will preface by saying that DWS does say (repeatedly) that the pricing system he laid out is just his opinion and every writer/publisher must do what is right for them. That is absolutely true. What works for one may not work for another. There are several reasons I do not agree with the extent to which he raised prices, however.

Here is his suggested list.  Please note that this entire discussion is about fiction and does not take into account any research that would typically be done for non-fiction.

As you can see, it is quite extensive. Ginormous, really. And overcomplicated. Now for my issues.

Let's start with the lowest bracket. Under 3000 words, he suggests charging $1.49. 3000 words is approximately 10 pages. A dollar and a half for 10 pages? That's excessive. I won't publish anything under 3000 words unless it's free. 3000 words is about 3 hours worth of work, max. It's really easy to embellish a story and bump it up to 6000.

DWS has three brackets between 6k and 15k. I think that's overcomplicated, not to mention overpriced. I like to keep everything in that range at $.99. It just doesn't make much sense (with Amazon, anyway) to go to $1.99 with the 35% royalty rate. I consider anything that short to be a sample of my work, really, and why would anyone want to pay $2 for a sample? I can see going $1.99 for things 10k-15k, though. 15k-30k should fall about $2.99. That's approximately 50-100 pages worth of reading and took a serious amount of effort to write, edit, and format. At the 70% royalty rate, an author will easily make $2 per sale. 30k-50k should be $3.99 and over 50k should be $4.99. I would argue that above 100k you could go even higher, but I wouldn't suggest anything over $7.99.

DWS's numbers put indie publishers on the same level price-wise as traditional publishers, which I think is just shooting ourselves in the foot (feet?). We have a distinct advantage over traditional publishers: We make more money. Royalty rates received by traditionally published authors are really low, around 15% if the publisher is generous. So on that $2.99 book, they'd make all of 44 cents. We can afford to price lower, which is only one of the reasons to keep our prices under $5.

The lower prices will entice more readers. No, I don't mean entice them to buy our books alone. I mean it will encourage people to read more. The lower prices of ebooks and the increased availability of free reading apps and cheap ereaders will (in my oh-so-humble opinion) encourage people to read more. Youth these days are very tech-minded and I know quite a few who would not otherwise read pick out a book on their new iPhone app and start devouring it. Raising prices up to where the books match the price of a good lunch will only discourage new readers.

In line with keeping books affordable, the lower priced books will entice those who are on a tight budget to buy while the books that come in above the $5 mark will likely fall in the borrow (or steal) category. I've lived on a tight budget the majority of my life and when it comes to books, I will definitely borrow the more expensive ones, or simply put them on a "wish list", in which case they usually get forgotten. However, if I see a book that looks really interesting and falls under $5, I'll definitely sample it and most likely buy it. Honestly, I've bought way too many books that I shouldn't have, but I've enjoyed most of them and I'm happy to support my fellow indies.

So my pricing is as follows (I use discretion with each book based on other factors, of course):
Under 3000: Free
3000-15000: $.99
15000-30000: $2.99
30000-50000: $3.99
Over 50000: $4.99

Those are just a few reasons why I think indie prices shouldn't try to compete with those of traditionally published books. We have an opportunity to share our books with those who may not necessarily have access to them otherwise and encourage new people to read. Why bleed our readers dry when we benefit so much from their support?

What did you think of DWS's article on pricing in 2012? As a reader, how do ebook prices affect your buying choices? As a writer, do you follow a specific pricing model?


  1. Interesting thoughts! Maybe I should consider raising the price of my books.

    Of course the other thing to consider is what readers are actually willing to pay, which is informed by the value they place on books and what the precident is. I wonder if it's already too late to raise indie book prices above 99 cents and $2.99 because that's what readers have become accustomed to paying.

  2. I think you might be right that it's too late to make too big of a change. I was talking to a friend (a non-reader) and mentioned this debate. They said "They're usually about $5, right"? Anything more than that and people are starting to balk at it unless it's an author they know.

    I won't go too high with my prices because I want people to be able to afford them w/o breaking the bank. Making them choose between a book and a coffee is one thing, but I won't make them choose between a book and lunch.

    However, I think you're in an interesting position. I don't read much historical fiction and such, but I've heard that people expect those prices to be higher. I have no proof for that aside from hearsay, though.

  3. I read DWS's article and thought the same thing you did - too complicated, and too much to ask people to pay at the shorter ranges. I also think there's a psychological barrier at $5. Many people (me included) don't want to pay more than that for an ebook, unless it's by someone really big name. Historical fiction and science fiction might be able to command higher prices, but otherwise, it's about impossible to pull off. Also agree with you that price too high = piracy.

  4. I agree, that first list seems far too complex and, in my opinion, expensive. I think our pricing schemes are the same, though I'm experimenting every few months to see what the market's doing. However, my biggest concern right now is who's buying indie books when so many are listed free every day?

  5. I agree with you in some ways about the free issue, Michael, but as a recovering freebie-holic, I can say that not all freebies are equal. It's easy to grab a book just because it's free, but how many of those actually get read? I had to do a mass purge off my Kindle of free books I downloaded. It's easy to make a book free. It's a lot harder to make it seem interesting enough for people to actually read it. The first in both of my series is free. A LOT of people download them, but not nearly as many go on to read the rest in the series. Based on my experience, I don't think freebies are as big of a concern as they seem at first. I'm actually less likely to read one I got for free than one I paid for.

  6. I like that you don't advocate pricing a full length novel at 99 cents. I think that with so many people doing that we're shooting ourselves in the foot by devaluing the hard work it takes to produce a novel. I have no problem with the first book in a series being significantly discounted in order to interest readers in the rest of the series, but if all you have is one and you're selling it for 99 cents, it doesn't make sense to me. Your pricing guide seems ideal.

  7. I hate that some people price full length novels (especially if they only have one book) at 99 cents. You won't make any money that way unless you get lucky and how can you write if you can't afford to pay the bills in the first place? With that said, my 80k novel is at 2.99 right now, but that's a temporary price that will go up soon. It's also the first in the series, aside from a short story prequel that I have up for free. I'm all for teaser freebies and cheapies, but that shouldn't be all you sell. I think a mix of prices is the way to go, to appeal to all readers.

  8. Great post, Samantha. There are way too many .99 cent books out there and from what I have heard from folks with e-readers, most are a bit dubious of the super cheap ones (or free ones). I've written a couple novels myself and am getting ready to publish. I've read a lot about selling your first book at .99 cents but with all the years of research and writing that went into my own work, I would definitely be selling myself short. Thanks for your insight.


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